BLERIOT IN THE DUCK POND; Flier Falls Well Short of the Channel

Daily Mail (London), July 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

BLERIOT IN THE DUCK POND; Flier Falls Well Short of the Channel


Byline: ROSS BENSON

LOUIS Bleriot took off from a field outside Calais in 1909.

Thirty-seven minutes later he landed at Dover, so becoming the first person to fly the Channel. His flight made him a legend and a millionaire.

Yesterday his grandson, another Louis Bleriot, tried to repeat the feat in a similar aircraft. He managed to stay aloft for barely 37 seconds.

He never saw the Channel, never mind the white cliffs of Dover. No sooner was he airborne than he was on his way down again - into a duck pond 100 yards from where he had taken off. He emerged covered, not in glory, but in weed.

As for his plane - well, you can safely say that it won't be flying again, not for a long time. 'I don't know what went wrong,' Bleriot muttered, when he finally struggled out of the water, bedraggled as the photograph of his famous and infinitely more successful grandfather he had put in his pocket just before take off.

Neither did anyone else, not with any certainty. Everyone had their theories, though, and the consensus was that it takes more than a famous name to fly the Channel in a rickety, parchment and wire contraption stapled together from the pages of aviation history.

It was six minutes after sunrise at 6.15 yesterday that Bleriot, 54, opened the throttle and took to the air for what had promised to be an historic re-enactment of one of the most significant flights in history.

Everything seemed set fair for a successful journey. The weather was fine, Bleriot was confident and the plane which bears his name and was borrowed from a museum, was in tip top condition.

Built for Bleriot senior in 1934 to mark the 25th anniversary of his crossing, it had been carefully restored and fitted with an engine with twice the horse power of the one that took the renowned aviator across the Channel 89 years ago.

But all that, sadly, wasn't enough.

The words of his grandfather should have provided the warning.

The great Bleriot, no stranger to crashes himself, had needed the help a crutch to make it to the plane after scalding his leg with burning oil few weeks before. But that, as he said, was no real handicap. 'I can't walk - but I can fly,' he declared. His grandson could walk. It was the other bit that seemed to be the problem.

Gloria Pullan, 45, who piloted a similar Bleriot monoplane nine years ago and also ended up ditching (albeit in the Channel, rather than a pond) explained the problem. 'It is quite easy to stall the aircraft because the maximum speed it can reach isn't a great deal higher than the stalling speed,' she said.

She was waiting at Dover to greet Louis. Louis, however, couldn't make it out of Calais. Getting up was easy enough. After that, however, it was straight down again.

He circled the takeoff field which is next to the one his grandfather used.

He turned towards the sea a couple of hundred yards away. The plane started to bank. He tried to straighten it up.

'Suddenly it wouldn't manoeuvre any more,' he recalled. 'I pushed the joy stick and rudder in one direction, but instead it went the other.' AND THE direction it was going was straight into the fresh water pond on the other side of the road.

'When you are up there you feel as free as a bird,' he told me just before takeoff. Not this time he didn't.

This bird had lost the will to stay airborne. …

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